The execution site perched on a low hill lying just east of the National Cemetery in south Fayetteville, about one mile from the county jail at the town square. Its position served well in accommodating large crowds of observers anxious to watch the hanging. The place later became known as Gallows Hill and remained in use for executions until the Civil War. After the war, in 1867, the site was taken over by the federal government and became part of the National Cemetery.
On a cold clear November day, the couple was brought by wagon to the wooden platform, a hood placed over their heads and then the noose, and last prayers uttered. It seemed the entire county’s population had turned out to witness the macabre event as the drop doors opened and Crawford and Lavinia fell into the arms of death.
Soon after the execution of his parents, John Burnett was arrested in southeast Missouri and brought back to Fayetteville. The testimony of Sharp quoted previously in this story was given by Sharp at John Burnett’s trial. On December 4, 1845, John Burnett was indicted and quickly sentenced to his fate. The same gallows awaited him. Despite his attorneys’ protestations of his innocence, of which they were fully convinced, thirty-four-year-old John Burnett was hung on the day after Christmas, December 26, 1845.
What unspeakable crime could have sent the Burnett family to their deaths?
Murder, it was alleged, planned by the aging parents and facilitated by their son John. Murder of an old man named Jonathan Selby, a recluse rumored to hoard wealth in his remote cabin, not an uncommon thread of gossip about someone who didn’t make himself known within social circles. His cash payment for his eighty acres contributed to this idea. He may have exhibited a degree of wealth by purchasing livestock or building materials for his home, outbuildings, or fences. Later court testimony revealed that he had made the mistake of allowing someone to see him place a quantity of money into his wallet.
Did the murderers find a money hoard? Did the Burnett’s daughter Minerva regret her role in her family’s execution? These are a few of the questions that linger after a crime like this, a crime that led to the first execution of a woman in the State of Arkansas.
Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.
From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.
The fifty chapters of Murder in the County each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair. Now, for the first time, readers can discover the horrors and mysteries of those long lost days.
Let the rains come. Let it seal me inside my house, all gray and dark. I will turn on lamps, pools of yellow light that warm me, bring me to my favored place at the end of the couch. Books and magazines and yesterday’s newspaper beckon me with tidbits from the obituaries and the editorial columns. I will clean my nails and stare at the wall that needs painting.
The rain overcomes my senses, filling my nostrils with its unmistakable scent.
Let the rain pour. Sheets of rain, pounding on the roof, obscuring the profile of houses down the hill. Taking away my worries of the bills that are due, the tires that need replacing. Thankful I am home. The noise of the rain on the roof takes away the noise of the world.
Soup for dinner. Quiet, hot food, soft in my mouth, accompaniment to the cacophony of thoughts that clamor for my time, my attention. When the repairs to the bathroom tile? When the vet for the cat’s injured ear? When the time to wander in the yard, staring at moths and yellow-flowering weeds and the lighted distance through low tree limbs? To contemplate the sky, radiant blue, outlined in the mid-summer green of oak leaves?
Pour, rain. Let me sit in my robe on the side of my bed, cooled, moistened, lulled by the steady drone on the roof. Let me ignore the phone that rings shrilly in the far room, its third ring aborted by my pre-recorded voice, apologizing, placating. Go away, all of you. Can’t you see it’s raining?
I need to be alone. Time to consider the meaning of it all. Why the frantic awakenings and driving and worrying, this and that, meetings, advising, bank deposits, expectant friends. I need to step aside, look at the curve of the neck of my child, where the hair meets the skin of her neck and small new hair curls in the heat of the July afternoon, in the heat of her temper.
I need to contemplate the reasons I exist.
Thank you, rain. Thanks for the time you drowned out the world. Poured water across the ground in streams, in newfound passages of water across red clay dirt, across rocky, pebbly ground. Across pavement, steaming in the sun.
Let it rain.
This series of lyrical essays express the author’s love of nature and the wonders of life on an Ozark hilltop. Throw in a few neighbors who shoot copperheads or remodel the dirt road. Ask what is the role of human privilege over the fate of raccoon, opossum, reckless chickens, and random cats? Ponder the passage of time through a philosophical lens of wonder and delight. The seasons bring summer heat, winter snow, pouring rain, the power of fire. Lessons learned, questions posed–who has lived and died on this land? What is our responsibility to this place, its creatures, each other?
Come meet the goat on the road. Available at Amazon.com
Seeking a self-sustaining life outside the city and a new start for her marriage, this twenty-five-year old woman boldly embarks on proprietorship of a full-service gas station along a highway in rural Arkansas. Her hope to live and work at her own place of business soon encounters not only the end of her marriage but also the entrenched conservatism of the rural South. Joyful in recounting her experiences with an endlessly astonishing parade of human nature, Campbell portrays a unique slice of American life at a pivotal time with the fall of Richard Nixon’s presidency and the end of the Vietnam War. Buoyed by a wellspring of support and companionship, Campbell struggles to hang on to her dream of independence.
At that time, the University of Arkansas split its football season between the Fayetteville campus and War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, a concession to the Little Rock elite who considered it their prerogative to host ‘home’ games. So on the three weekends that Fayetteville hosted the games, traffic from Central Arkansas and elsewhere backed up for miles along Highway 71 as game time approached. After the game, the Conoco could count on plenty of sales as the out-of-town football fans headed home.
We stayed open late on those nights, bugs flying into the lights shining down from their high perch over the gas pumps, the steady hum of traffic on the road. If the Razorbacks had lost the game, the line of taillights carried with them a somber quiet acceptance that not every game in life is a win. If the team won, the nighttime traffic diminished as rowdy fans lingered in town to celebrate in the raucous bars along Dickson Street, guitar licks and drum beats echoing into the night. George’s, the Swingin’ Door, The Library and more were standing room only, their floors sticky with spilled drink.
I recruited helpers from Cousin Dave’s gang although Dave himself wasn’t having any of it. He’d worked enough for his folks when they owned the Conoco, he said. One of the friends I hired for a late night of football traffic was Mark Y. His lanky frame stood well over six feet tall, his twenty-year-old body filled out with field work on his family’s farm. Despite a thicket of light blond hair and a handsome face, he was miserably shy, but he needed money, and so that night and several other times, he forced himself into the public eye. Dave, JR, and the rest of the gang encouraged him to do the work—none of the rest of them wanted to pump gas until ten p.m.
One of those nights, the guys were watching television with me in the apartment when Mark suddenly appeared at the door, a red flush on his cheeks.
“There’s a woman out there,” he gasped. “Big fancy Continental. She’s… she…”
We all sprang up and crowded around Mark, trying to guess the crisis.
“What? Is she sick? Hurt?” I said.
“No, she…” He glanced around at the guys standing there, waiting to hear then his gaze came back to me. His head dropped forward as he looked down. “Lordie,” he muttered.
He stammered more then finally got a few words out. “I…I walked up to the window and the window was down, and… Well, first, she smiled at me.”
“She smiled at you?” Dave bent over laughing. “What the hell?”
“No, she, uh, she… her skirt was pulled up and I could see…Lord help me.”
“What?” JR demanded. “Could you see her panties?”
Another uproarious surge of laughter poured out the open door into the night. Mark’s face had turned beet red.
“No, damn it,” he said, jaw twitching. “There weren’t no panties.” …
With yesterday’s arrest of Josh Duggar on federal charges of child pornography, this family of “19 Kids and Counting” fame is once again under the spotlight. Age 33, Josh along with his wife have so far produced seven children, following in his parent’s tradition of gene reproduction without regard, apparently, to the need to actually parent those children, an allegation supported by Duggar’s continuing sex crimes.
As a teen, Josh molested four younger sisters and at least one friend of theirs. Members of their church, the sprawling First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas, along with an officer of the Arkansas State Police (now in prison for child porn) helped Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar cover up these insidious crimes until the statute of limitations had run on any potential prosecution.
On the heels of that scandal in 2015, Josh’s rough treatment of a woman he hired for sex hit the news along with the revelation that he had joined a dating service dedicated to married men who wanted to hook up.
“A few months after apologizing for his “wrongdoing” in the child molestation scandal, Duggar has confessed to cheating on his wife Anna, developing an Internet pornography addiction (which he later removed from his statement) and signing up for two paid subscriptions to Ashley Madison.”
Is it finally time to examine the roots of such disgusting behavior? Is it time to look at the repressive nature of evangelical Christianity that lies not only at the foundations of Josh Duggar’s offenses but also of the innumerable cases of youth ministers and preachers and multiple other respected positions of these churches who find themselves embroiled in sexual misdeeds?
Other such abuses appear with crushing frequency not only in Northwest Arkansas but across the country where evangelicals embrace their collective ignorance. Previous posts regarding this issue include a report on earlier Duggar shame as well as the rape of a six-year-old girl rehomed by Republican state representative Justin Harris, owner of a childcare center in the small town of West Fork. [See Footnote]
These are not isolated incidents. Hardly a week goes by without the report of another minister or youth leader or congregational member caught in one or another sex crime. The Washington Post spotlighted the problem of sexual abuse within the evangelical Christian community in a 2018 article:
“Across the United States, evangelical churches are failing to protect victims of sexual abuse among their members. As the #MeToo movement has swept into communities of faith, several high-profile leaders have fallen: Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was forced into early retirement this month after reports that he’d told a rape victim to forgive her assailant rather than call the police. Illinois megachurch pastor Bill Hybels similarly retired early after several women said he’d dispensed lewd comments, unwanted kisses and invitations to hotel rooms.
“…The sex advice columnist and LGBT rights advocate Dan Savage, tired of what he called the hypocrisy of conservatives who believe that gays molest children, compiled his own list that documents more than 100 instances of youth pastors around the country who, between 2008 and 2016, were accused of, arrested for or convicted of sexually abusing minors in a religious setting.”
While on the surface church members who embrace the teachings of Christ might seem the least likely to commit such abuses, it seems that the fundamentalist religious power structure and their teachings lie at the heart of these perversions. Just as Catholic priests (and nuns) have been found disproportionately likely to sexually abuse young children compared to the rest of the population, evangelical Christians hear the same unnatural lessons from the mouths of their preachers. Sex is sin. Touching yourself (otherwise known as masturbation) is sin. But if you sin, God will forgive you (so, in essence, there’s a backdoor if Satan overcomes you…).
Attempting to live outside the demands of the biological bodies we inhabit is nothing but an elaborate game of whack-a-mole. The need pops up no matter how sternly we might try to suppress it. The stronger the urge, the louder they preach, the more likely the urge will slink off sideways into situations where the risk of being discovered is least likely to surface. Little kids can be intimidated into silence. Little kids are gullible, easily convinced that this diddling inflicted by an older person is somehow okay. Little kids are innocent, therefore they don’t taint the abuser in a sexual act the same way an older experienced sex partner might.
Then there’s evangelical power structure of an authoritarian god who delegates his authority to the male who then is enabled to rule over lesser beings like women and children. Those under this male authority can be subjected to his abuses, and those abuses can be covered up on his edict, making sexual abuse very tempting to repressed males.
But the roots go deeper still. The way this religious authority works is to demand adherence to a set of rules. This is the opposite of teaching people how to think or take responsibility for themselves. After all, if you ‘sin,’ it’s not really you, it’s Satan.
Children brought up in this belief system are often forced into homeschooling or church schools where they are taught not to question. Despite humanity’s crowning glory of cerebral function, intellect is switched off in favor of rules. Parents of Josh Duggar are a perfect example of this willful ignorance, refusing to obtain secular psychologist help when their oldest child’s incestuous fondling came to light and instead keeping it in the church family.
“The roots of the Judeo-Christian sexual prohibitions, as well as the sexual prohibitions of religions such as Islam, spring from ancient Jewish tribal law. During early times wives were considered “property” and laws were specifically codified to protect three things: livestock, wives and dwellings–an order or importance that seems clear in Jewish law. Beliefs among different groups ranged all the way from the approval of prostitution, homosexuality, sex with slaves and liberal views toward divorce, to 180-degree shifts in each of these areas.”
“One of the myths of ‘evangelicalism’ is it inoculates the young against ‘sin’ and keeps them pure, compared to the alternatives. While anecdotal stories can be told this simply is NOT statistically true for most evangelical young,” reports this author in a first person exposé.
“It sure wasn’t true at the evangelical school I attended or in the church. In fact, the worst of the bunch was the pastor’s son. Yet the pastor publicly claimed his son was pure and virginal even though he absolutely knew that was a lie. In reality, the son was going through a large number of the teenage girls at the time and it wasn’t all consensual. His wife, who I knew somewhat, later said in an interview they were having sex and the pastor knew it the whole time but lied from the pulpit. ‘Dr. Hyles’ lying was blatant just like David’s. David was a blatant liar. He told lies that he couldn’t possibly get away with. The problem is that his dad has set himself up so good, that everybody doubts everything because that’s how they have been taught.’ But the preacher dad also lied about his own affairs, as did his son-in-law who seduced an underage girl when he took over as pastor.’”
In another article, the relationship between sex crimes and extreme religious beliefs is set out in stark terms.
“While outwardly decrying abuse, extreme religiosity may breed it. In a sample of first-year students at a southern U.S. university, researchers found ‘significant relationships between religiosity and victims of child sexual abuse by both relatives and non-relatives. Persons sexually abused by a relative were much more likely to be affiliated with fundamental Protestant religions.’ A 2006 study of religiosity among Australian men incarcerated for serious sex offenses discovered that those who maintained religious involvement from childhood to adulthood had more sexual offense convictions, more victims, and younger victims than other groups, including atheists. Among Jewish men in an Israeli prison, ‘religious Jews … were more likely to be in for sex crimes,’ according to other research.”
Tragically for all concerned, the evangelical response to the realities of natural sexual desires is to frame sexual misbehavior as a crime of Satan rather than a predictable outcome of their theology. Josh Duggar is the product of his family’s extreme religious beliefs, not an anomaly. It may be a relief to his seven children that he is currently being held without bond.
Never before has the heavy hand of religion gripped so hard in its effort to control a state government. The Republican majority of the 2021 legislative session has strained to enact every conceivable moral judgment on the state’s citizenry, promising that a large sum of taxpayer dollars will be tossed into the maw of federal courts defending the church’s agenda.
Since many of these laws intrude into the private homes, bedrooms, and bodies of Arkansans in violation of their Constitutional rights, they will—hopefully—be overturned.
Established by Jerry Cox in 1991, the Family Council is again the force behind another disgraceful session, wielding its medieval outrage over Republican legislators who can’t seem to see beyond the church hymnal. It’s as if science never existed, which is exactly what the Council wants. The Council’s agenda could not be more conspicuous: strangle the privacy and individual rights of the people of Arkansas through the enactment of laws that move social norms backwards a century or more.
“The Family Council is a conservative education and research organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Our mission is to promote, protect, and strengthen traditional family values found and reflected in the Bible by impacting public opinion and public policy in Arkansas.”
Purportedly a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, the Council lists its areas of concern as Abortion, End of Life Issues, Stem Cell Research, Human Cloning, Physician-Assisted Suicide, Same-Sex Marriage, Religious Liberty, Homosexuality, Gambling, Judicial Activism, Education Choice, Home Schooling, Divorce, Taxes, and Healthcare.
Seven of these fifteen ‘areas of concern’ are very personal, private matters, yet the Council has convinced legislators they have the right, yea, even verily the responsibility, to wade in and slam a fist down on the dinner table.
What follows is taken from the Council’s website.
“What a week at the Arkansas Legislature!
“The legislators stood strong and enacted H.B. 1570, a really good bill protecting children from dangerous gender-reassignment procedures. Lawmakers did this despite immense pressure from liberal groups across America.”
Following ‘a brief look back at the week,’ the Council gets down to passing judgment on the legislation passed so far:
Good Bills Passed So Far
H.B. 1570 (Prohibiting Sex-Reassignment on Children): This good bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Alan Clark (R – Lonsdale) prohibits sex-reassignment procedures on children. The bill also prevents funding of sex-reassignment procedures performed on children. This bill will protect children from being subjected to surgeries and procedures that can leave them sterilized and permanently scarred. The bill has passed the Arkansas House of Representatives and been sent to the senate. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 562 / H.B. 1402 (Abortion-Inducing Drugs): This good bill by Rep. Sonia Barker (R – Smackover) and Sen. Blake Johnson (R – Corning) updates Arkansas’ restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs like RU-486. It outlines requirements that abortionists must follow in administering abortion-inducing drugs, and it prohibits abortion drugs from being delivered by mail in Arkansas. It also updates current law to ensure doctors who perform chemical abortions are credentialed to handle abortion complications and can transfer the woman to a hospital if she experiences complications. The bill has passed the Arkansas House. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Jerry Cox visits with Capitol Police officers ahead of a press conference in support of H.B. 1570, the SAFE Act.
Act 560 / H.B. 1572 (Informed-Consent to Chemical Abortion): This good bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Scott Flippo (R – Mountain Home) outlines the informed-consent process for chemical abortion. Arkansas’ current informed-consent laws for abortion are geared primarily for surgical abortion procedures. H.B. 1572 will help ensure women get all the facts about chemical abortion — including its risks, consequences, and pro-life alternatives. This will help save many unborn children from abortion. The bill has passed the Arkansas House. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 462 / S.B. 289 (Conscience): This good bill by Sen. Kim Hammer (R – Benton) and Rep. Brandt Smith (R – Jonesboro) protects healthcare workers’ rights of conscience. Arkansas’ current conscience protections are narrowly focused on abortion, abortifacients, and end of life decisions, and they protect only a limited number of people. S.B. 289 helps broaden these protections for healthcare workers. See how your state senator voted here. See how your state representative voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 498 / S.B. 85 (Abortion): This good bill by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R – Rogers) and Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville) requires an abortionist to show an ultrasound image of the unborn baby to the pregnant woman before an abortion. Currently, Arkansas law says an abortionist must offer to let the woman see the ultrasound image. Research indicates that some women are less likely to have an abortion once they see an ultrasound image of their unborn child. That means pro-life bills like S.B. 85 can help further decrease the number of abortions in Arkansas. Arkansas Right to Life is the chief proponent of this bill, and we fully support their efforts. See how your state senator voted here. See how your state representative voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 309 / S.B. 6 (Prohibiting Abortion): This good law by Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) prohibits abortion in Arkansas, except in cases when the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Family Council worked closely with Sen. Rapert to pass this good bill that could save the lives of thousands of children and give the courts an opportunity to overturn decades of bad, pro-abortion rulings. See how your state senator voted here. See how your state representative voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 226 / H.B. 1116 (Simon’s Law): This good bill by Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) and Sen. Bart Hester (R – Cave Springs) is named in honor of an infant in Missouri who died after doctors put a Do Not Resuscitate order on his chart without his parent’s knowledge or permission. If passed, it would help protect children in Arkansas from being denied life support or having a DNR placed on their medical charts without parental consent. The bill has passed into law. See how your state representative voted here. See how your senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 392 / H.B. 1544 (Pro-Life Cities Resolution): This good bill by Rep. Kendon Underwood (R – Cave Springs) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) affirms the right of municipalities in Arkansas to declare themselves pro-life. H.B. 1544 outlines some of the findings and language that cities can put in their pro-life resolution. The bill also clarifies that Pro-Life Cities can install signs or banners announcing that they are pro-life. The bill has passed the Arkansas House and the Senate City, County, and Local Affairs Committee. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read the Bill Here.
H.R. 1021 (Home School): This good resolution by Rep. Cameron Cooper (R – Romance) recognizes and celebrates 35 years of homeschooling in Arkansas. The resolution passed the Arkansas House on a voice vote. Read The Resolution
H.B. 1882 (Privacy): This good bill by Rep. Cindy Crawford (R – Fort Smith) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) protects physical privacy and safety of Arkansans in showers, locker rooms, changing facilities, and restrooms on government property. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 662 (Prayer): This good bill by Sen. Ricky Hill (R – Cabot) and Rep. Cameron Cooper (R – Romance) establishes a Day of Prayer for Arkansas Students annually on the last Wednesday of September. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 388 (Abortion Facilities): This good bill by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R – Jonesboro), Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville), and Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) requires any facility that performs abortions to be licensed by the Arkansas Department of Health as an abortion facility, and it prohibits abortions in hospitals except in cases of medical emergency. S.B. 388 will help ensure that every clinic that performs abortions follows all of Arkansas’ laws concerning abortion facilities. This has the potential to save many women and unborn children from abortion. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 527 (Abortion Facilities): This good bill by Sen. Ben Gilmore (R – Crossett) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) requires abortion facilities to have transfer agreements with hospitals, and it fixes a flawed definition in a pro-life law passed in 2019. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 463 (Abortion Facilities): This good bill by Sen. Blake Johnson (R – Corning) and Rep. Tony Furman (R – Benton) requires the State of Arkansas to report abortion data to the federal Centers for Disease Control. It also tightens Arkansas law concerning abortion facility inspections, and it requires abortionists to file certain documentation when the woman is a victim of rape or incest. The bill has passed the Arkansas Senate. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1830 (Religious Freedom): H.B. 1830 by Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) protects the right of public school students to express a religious viewpoint in class assignments the same way they could appropriately express a secular viewpoint in an assignment. See how your state representative voted here. Read The Bill Here.
S.J.R.14 (Religious Freedom): S.J.R. 14 by Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It prevents the government from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion. The measure is similar to Arkansas’ state Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Family Council strongly supports this good amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. Read The Bill Here.
H.J.R.1024 (Religious Freedom): H.J.R. 1024 by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) and Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It prevents the government from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion. The measure is similar to Arkansas’ state Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Family Council strongly supports this good amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. Read The Bill Here.
H.J.R.1025 (Life): H.J.R. 1025 by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It says that the sanctity of life is paramount to all other rights protected by the constitution. It states that Arkansas citizens, acting as jurors, have the sole authority to determine the amount of compensation or civil penalty imposed because of injuries resulting in death or resulting from acts that create a significant risk to life. H.J.R. 1025 will help prevent the State of Arkansas from placing a price tag on human life. Family Council strongly supports this good amendment. Read The Bill Here.
H.J.R.1010 (Casino Gambling): H.J.R. 1010 by Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville) amends the Arkansas Constitution to remove authorization of a casino in Pope County. This is a good amendment that will help curtail casino gambling in Arkansas. Family Council supports H.J.R. 1010. Read The Bill Here.
H.J.R.1011 (Casino Gambling): H.J.R. 1011 by Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It changes the casino amendment that authorizes casino gambling in Pope, Jefferson, Garland, and Crittenden counties. Under H.J.R. 1011, the Arkansas Racing Commission would not issue a casino license in Pope County unless the voters of the county approve conducting casino gaming at a local election. Family Council supports H.J.R. 1011. Read The Bill Here.
S.J.R.16 (Boys and Girls Athletics): S.J.R. 16 by Sen. Alan Clark (R – Lonsdale) would amend the Arkansas Constitution to require public schools to designate their athletic teams as “male” or “female,” and require student athletes to compete according to their biological sex. This would prevent boys who claim to be girls from competing in girls’ sports at school — and vice versa. Family Council supports this measure. Read The Bill Here.
H.C.R. 1007 (Abortion): This good resolution by Rep. Jim Wooten (R – Beebe) and Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) recognizes January 22 — the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade abortion decision — as “The Day of Tears” in Arkansas. The resolution acknowledges the 61 million of unborn babies killed in abortion in America over the past five decades, and encourages Arkansans to lower their flags to half-staff on January 22 to mourn the innocent children who have lost their lives. Read The Resolution Here.
H.B. 1429 (Home School): This good bill by Rep. Mark Lowery (R – Maumelle) and Sen. Ben Gilmore (R – Crossett) makes it easier for a student to withdraw from a public school to home school. The bill reduces the fourteen-day waiting period currently in Arkansas law for families wishing to transfer out of a public school. It also makes technical corrections to the home school law. Read The Bill Here.
[My note on Arkansas home schooling policies: There are no educational requirements for parents/guardians who provide a home school for their child(ren). The law does not give the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education or the school district the authority to review or monitor a home school student’s work. Home schools are not accredited by the state. There are no grades, credits, transcripts, or diplomas provided by the state, education service cooperative, or by the local school district for students enrolled in home school. Parents are not required to test their students.]
[Additional note: Home schooling allows parents to teach religious beliefs while leaving out those pesky topics like history, civics, and science.]
Bad Bills Filed So Far
S.B. 622 (Hate Crimes): This bad bill by Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R – Texarkana) and Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R – El Dorado), commonly being called a “hate crimes law,” outlines vague, protected classes in state law. This bill is so ambiguous that it’s impossible to know just how far-reaching this legislation may be. S.B. 622’s protections for religious liberty are not adequate. The bill does not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent cities and counties from enacting their own, more stringent hate crimes ordinances. It does not do enough to protect free speech or prevent thought-policing. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1685 (End-of-Life Care): This bad bill by Rep. Michelle Gray (R – Melbourne) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) guts the intent of the Arkansas Healthcare Decisions Act. It lets healthcare workers who are not physicians work through end-of-life decisions with patients and family members. It does not require healthcare workers making these decisions to have appropriate training in end-of-life care. It makes it easier to deny a dying person food or water. Family Council strongly opposes this bad bill. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1686 (End-of-Life Care): This bad bill by Rep. Michelle Gray (R – Melbourne) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) guts the intent of the Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment Act. It lets healthcare workers who are not physicians complete Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms. It removes an important provision in state law that says a POLST form is not intended to replace an advance directive. It inadvertently prevents consulting physicians — such as palliative care physicians — from completing POLST forms with patients. Family Council strongly opposes this bad bill. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 655 (Sex-Education): This bad bill by Sen. Greg Leding (D – Fayetteville) and Rep. Megan Godfrey (D – Springdale) implements Planned Parenthood-style comprehensive sex-education in public schools in Arkansas. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1869 (Gambling): This bad bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Russellville) would legalize internet gambling and Keno under the Arkansas Lottery. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 3 (Enacting Hate Crimes Legislation): This bad bill by Sen. Jim Hendren (I – Gravette) and Rep. Fred Love (D – Little Rock) enacts hate crimes legislation by enhancing penalties for crimes committed against certain protected classes of people listed in the bill. The bill is virtually identical to H.B. 1020. Family Council has opposed hate crimes legislation for more than 20 years, and we oppose this bill as well. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1020 (Enacting Hate Crimes Legislation): This bad bill by Rep. Fred Love (D – Little Rock) and Sen. Jim Hendren (I – Gravette) enacts hate crimes legislation by enhancing penalties for crimes committed against certain protected classes of people listed in the bill. The bill is virtually identical to S.B. 3. Family Council has opposed hate crimes legislation for more than 20 years, and we oppose this bill as well. Read The Bill Here.
H.J.R.1008 (Initiatives and Referenda): H.J.R. 1008 by Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R – Horatio) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It requires initiatives and referenda submitted to voters via petition drives to be approved by at least 60% of the votes cast on the measure in order to pass. However, it would not require constitutional amendments submitted by the General Assembly to be approved by 60% of the vote. Family Council opposes this measure. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1228 (Public Drinking): This bad bill by Rep. Lee Johnson (R – Greenwood) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) would let cities in dry counties approve public drinking in “entertainment districts” if the city contains a private club that serves alcohol. Under Arkansas’ “entertainment district” law, alcohol can be carried and consumed outdoors on city streets and sidewalks around bars and restaurants, if approved by the city council. The bill has passed the Arkansas House of Representatives, but has not been approved by the Arkansas Senate. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1066 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Clarksville) would let microbrewery operators ship beer directly to private residences anywhere in the state of Arkansas or to residences in other states that allow direct shipment of alcohol. The bill may not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent alcohol from being delivered to someone who is under 21. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1148 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Frances Cavenaugh (R – Walnut Ridge) and Sen. Missy Irvin (R – Mountain View) overhauls Arkansas’ local option election law concerning alcohol. The bill reduces the threshold for taking a county wet or dry via a petition drive. Liquor stores in wet counties would be able to continue operating even if the county voted to go dry. The bill would make it easier for some cities or towns in a dry county to be wet while the rest of the county is dry. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 510 (LGBT Counseling): This bad bill by Sen. Greg Leding (D – Fayetteville) and Rep. Tippi McCullough (D – Little Rock) would prohibit healthcare professionals from helping children overcome unwanted same-sex attraction and gender confusion. However, the bill would permit pro-LGBT counseling that encourages children embrace a different sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a bad bill that hurts healthcare professionals and endangers the welfare of children. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1697 (No-Fault Divorce): This bad bill by Rep. Ashley Hudson (D – Little Rock) and Sen. Greg Leding (D – Fayetteville) permits no-fault divorce in Arkansas. Under current law, couples in Arkansas can divorces in cases such as infidelity, abuse, following a lengthy separation, and other circumstances. H.B. 1697 would permit divorce due to irreconcilable differences, discord, or conflict of personalities regardless of if the husband or wife is at fault. Read The Bill Here.
Other Legislation to Watch
H.B. 1069 (Contraceptives): This bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Clarksville) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) lets pharmacists dispense oral contraceptives to women without a prescription from a doctor. Family Council previously opposed this bill. However, Rep. Pilkington has filed amendments to the bill. His amendments address objections Family Council raised against H.B. 1069. Family Council is neutral on this bill. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 32 (Alcohol): This bill by Sen. Jane English (R – North Little Rock) and Rep. Karilyn Brown (R – Sherwood) would let retail liquor permit holders — such as liquor stores — deliver alcoholic beverages to private residences in the county where the store is located. The bill may not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent alcohol from being delivered to someone who is under 21. The bill has passed the Arkansas Senate and the Arkansas House. See how your senator voted here. See how your state representative voted here. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1341 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Karilyn Brown (R – Sherwood) and Sen. Jane English (R – North Little Rock) permits on-premises consumption of alcohol on Christmas Day. Currently, Arkansas law generally prohibits bars and liquor stores from selling alcohol on Christmas. This bill would allow alcohol to be sold for on-premises consumption in bars and restaurants on Christmas. It would not let liquor stores sell alcohol for off-premises consumption. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1522 (Marijuana Transportation and Possession): This bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R – Rogers) prohibits a person from being under the influence of marijuana in public or at a marijuana dispensary or marijuana cultivation facility. It clarifies that it is unlawful for a person to use marijuana by inhalation in a place where marijuana is prohibited by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016. It also imposes penalties for possessing more marijuana than Arkansas’ medical marijuana amendment allows. And it makes it a crime to transport medical marijuana into Arkansas from another state. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 389 (Parental Review of Sex-Education): This bill by Sen. Bob Ballinger (R – Ozark) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) requires public schools to notify parents about sex-education material and give parents the option of opting their students out of the class or activity. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
 Some bills pertaining to non-personal/privacy concerns are excluded from this article.
As the Arkansas legislature passes a bill to deny medical care to transgender individuals, the spotlight once again shines down on this state as the home of vastly destructive ignorance. One of the bill’s Republican sponsors, state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, compared gender-affirming treatments to surgical and chemical “mutilation,” and said children should not be allowed to make such decisions before they turn 18.
“This is about protecting minors,” she said. “Many of you, I would hazard to guess, did things under 18 that you probably shouldn’t have done … why would we ever even consider allowing a sex change for a minor?”
This statement reveals the abysmal ignorance of Lundstrum and other sponsors who not only failed to research the science behind transgender needs, but also ignored testimony from parents and medical professionals who pointed out that once treated with appropriate therapies, transgender incidents of extreme depression and suicide drop off significantly.
Lundstrum and colleagues fail utterly to grasp that the crisis point for most trans individuals is adolescence, when the body they expect and hope to live inside starts to change away from that expected form.
“According to the American Psychological Association, gender dysphoria is defined as persistent distress related to the feeling that one’s body is not congruent with their perceived gender. Simply put, gender dysphoria occurs when the way a person looks on the outside doesn’t match the gender they feel on the inside. Gender dysphoria is actually a relatively new diagnosis. It replaced “gender identity disorder” in 2013, in a move intended to underscore the fact that being transgender is not an illness or a disorder—only individuals who experience distress related to their gender status require mental health treatment. Research suggests that a number of factors can help to reduce the levels of distress and psychological dysfunction related to being transgender. In addition to psychotherapy with an empathetic provider who is well-versed in transgender issues, interventions that increase family, peer, and community acceptance can go a long way towards improving outcomes and quality of life for transgender men and women.”
Not surprisingly, among Arkansas legislators whose primary source of information is an ancient religious text, this new legal restriction reflects zero awareness of the increasingly startling body of evidence that shows how modern chemicals play a role in our sexuality.
“Exposure to hormone-altering chemicals called phthalates — which are found in many plastics, foods and personal care products — early in pregnancy is associated with a disruption in an essential pregnancy hormone and adversely affects the masculinization of male genitals in the baby, according to new research. The findings focus on the role of the placenta in responding to these chemicals and altering levels of a key pregnancy hormone.
One need not delve deeply into scientific literature to discover the impact of prenatal exposures upon our sexuality. An extensive entry in the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia offers two important points:
1 – “An endocrinology study by Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab postulated that ‘In humans, the main mechanism responsible of [sic] sexual identity and orientation involves a direct effect of testosterone on the developing brain.’ Further, their study puts forward that intrauterine exposure to hormones is largely determinative. Sketching the argument briefly here, the authors say that sexual organs are differentiated first, and then the brain is sexually differentiated ‘under the influence, mainly, of sex hormones such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone on the developing brain cells and under the presence of different genes as well … The changes brought about in this stage are permanent. … Sexual differentiation of the brain is not caused by hormones alone, even though they are very important for gender identity and sexual orientation.’”
2 – “Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals that, at certain doses, can interfere with the endocrine system in mammals. Work on possible neurotoxic effects of endocrine disruptors, and their possible effects on sexual orientation when a fetus is exposed to them, is in its infancy: ‘we mostly know about the relationship between EDC exposure and neurobehavioral function through an examination of outcomes within a limited sphere of questions.’ While studies have found that xenoestrogens and xenoandrogens can alter the brain’s sexual differentiation in a number of species used as animal models, from the data in hand to date, it is ‘misleading …to expect EDCs to produce profiles of effects, such as sexually dimorphic behaviors, as literal copies of those produced by native hormones. Such agents are not hormones. They should not be expected to act precisely as hormones.’”
Endocrine disruptors aren’t some rare trace element. They’re present in the lives of all of us. What are some common endocrine disruptors?
Bisphenol A (BPA) — used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are found in many plastic products including food storage containers
Dioxins — produced as a byproduct in herbicide production and paper bleaching, they are also released into the environment during waste burning and wildfires
Perchlorate — a by-product of aerospace, weapon, and pharmaceutical industries found in drinking water and fireworks
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) — used widely in industrial applications, such as firefighting foams and non-stick pan, paper, and textile coatings
Phthalates — used to make plastics more flexible, they are also found in some food packaging, cosmetics, children’s toys, and medical devices
Phytoestrogens — naturally-occurring substances in plants that have hormone-like activity, such as genistein and daidzein that are in soy products, like tofu or soy milk
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) — used to make flame retardants for household products such as furniture foam and carpets
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) — used to make electrical equipment like transformers, and in hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, lubricants, and plasticizers
Triclosan — may be found in some anti-microbial and personal care products, like liquid body wash
In 2016, the Obama Administration pushed legislation that required the Environmental Protection Agency to begin testing the over 80,000 unregulated chemicals currently on the market in everything from food packaging to shampoo.
“The new law requires EPA to test tens of thousands of unregulated chemicals currently on the market, and the roughly 2,000 new chemicals introduced each year, but quite slowly. The EPA will review a minimum of 20 chemicals at a time, and each has a seven-year deadline. Industry may then have five years to comply after a new rule is made. At that pace it could take centuries for the agency to finish its review.”
Chemicals are not the only factor potentially involved in transgender cases. Even the most vigilant pregnant woman cannot avoid times of extreme stress or hormonal fluctuation triggered by a variety of situations. Yet no one escapes the silent chemical flood surrounding us every day in every way. Even more shocking, micro-plastics are now appearing in placentas.
“The health impact of microplastics in the body is as yet unknown. But the scientists said they could carry chemicals that could cause long-term damage or upset the foetus’s developing immune system. The particles are likely to have been consumed or breathed in by the mothers.
“The particles were found in the placentas from four healthy women who had normal pregnancies and births. Microplastics were detected on both the foetal and maternal sides of the placenta and in the membrane within which the foetus develops.
“A dozen plastic particles were found. Only about 4% of each placenta was analysed, however, suggesting the total number of microplastics was much higher. All the particles analysed were plastics that had been dyed blue, red, orange or pink and may have originally come from packaging, paints or cosmetics and personal care products.
“It is like having a cyborg baby: no longer composed only of human cells, but a mixture of biological and inorganic entities,” said Antonio Ragusa, director of obstetrics and gynaecology at the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome, and who led the study.”
Despite years of awareness that plastics and other chemicals were exerting unwelcome changes in human existence, the production and consumption of these synthetics continue unabated. A 2019 study by the World Health Organization concluded: “In 2015, humans produced around 407 million tons of plastic. A recent review collated 50 studies wherein scientists found microplastics in fresh water, drinking water, or waste water. Some of these studies counted thousands of microplastic particles in every liter of drinking water.”
In a society—indeed a world—deeply dependent on plastics and other chemical products in everyday life, Arkansas legislators are not alone in failing utterly to provide the kind of informed compassionate leadership the American people deserve. Similar legislation pushed by religious groups at home and abroad attempt to cram a square peg into a round hole—withholding medical care, threatening prosecution for providing medical care, and enforcing blatant discrimination against anyone who doesn’t fit the round hole. Without understanding anything of the scientific facts behind growing anomalies like transgenderism, this effort to force binary sexuality onto a modern population creates crushing harm to those impacted and will do nothing to address the underlying cause.
Arkansas continues its dereliction of duty in educating its young people with the May 22 announcement by Gov. Asa Hutchinson that he will promote current Education Commissioner Johnny Key to the governor’s new cabinet position of Education Secretary. With this promotion, Key will add another $3,450 per year to his already ridiculous salary of $239,540 and gain ever greater leverage over the hapless citizenry of our state.
Readers may remember the insidious maneuvering required to cram Key into the commissioner position in the first place. Back in 2015, Key’s work history and educational achievements did not qualify him for the job. The law required a master’s degree and ten years teaching experience. When Gov. Hutchinson seized on the idea of putting Key in the post, a bill rushed through the legislature allowed the commissioner to evade these requirements if the deputy commission held those credentials. Not that the commissioner would be required to obtain the advice or consent of the deputy in any given matter.
Key graduated from Gurdon (Arkansas) High School then received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1991 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He never taught a day in his life. That is, unless you count his and his wife’s operation of two pre-schools in Mountain Home, Noah’s Ark Preschool and Open Arms Living Center, operations that for years applied for and received tax-funded grants while flagrantly teaching religion. Another state legislator, Justin Harris (West Fork) also operated illegally with such dollars for his Growing God’s Kingdom preschool. All three schools received funding from the state under the Arkansas Better Choice (ABC) program administered by the Department of Human Service (DHS). After complaints were filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the state had no choice but to amend its grant guidelines.
AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith told Church & State. “The administrators of the Arkansas Better Choice (ABC) program violated the Constitution by funding [these] religious activities.”
According to a 2011 Arkansas Times report, “Sen. Johnny Key gets almost $200,000 in public money a year in support of his Noah’s Ark Preschool in Mountain Home, which also provides Bible lessons and daily prayers. Nearly 300 agencies — many of them with religious roots — receive $100 million a year in public Arkansas Better Chance funding to provide preschool for poor children.”
The stated mission of the Harris preschool was to “share the love of Jesus” with students, and the school operated with a Christian curriculum that included a “Bible time” for verses, stories and prayer. The school’s handbook also assured parents that staff members will “strive to ensure that your child feels the love of Jesus Christ while preparing them for Kindergarten.” The preschoolers, it continues, would be taught “the word of God” so that they can “spread the word of God to others.” They also prayed over students with disciplinary problems and laid on hands to “cast out demons.”
Key began his career in public service in 1997 when he was elected to serve as a justice of the peace on the Baxter County Quorum Court. He was elected to three two-year terms in the House of Representatives, followed by a tenure in the Senate that began in 2008. Term limited out of the legislature, Key served as associate vice president for university relations at the University of Arkansas system, a position he began in August 2014, a half-year before his friend the governor found him a cozy role at the helm of the state’s education system.
Yet even while in the legislature, Key demonstrated his dedication to the extremist religious agenda in education:
He was active in education issues, including responsibility for exploding the number of seats that receive state dollars to essentially finance home-schooling, by qualifying millions in spending on “virtual charter schools” that provide assistance to students who don’t attend conventional brick-and-mortar schools. His special language, never debated on the floor, lifted the cap on such payments from 500 to 5,000 students.
Simultaneously, the state excused itself from any oversight of home-schooled students. There are no tests, no monitoring, no method by which to ensure thousands of Arkansas home-schooled kids are actually learning anything,
Key has also been a champion of public charter schools in the model promoted by the Walton heirs. While first lauded as a path for parents dissatisfied with their children’s education, charter schools have come under increasing scrutiny for siphoning money away from public schools with less than excellent results. Even worse, soon after taking over as education commissioner, Key became the default school board for Little Rock’s troubled schools. The district struggles with low-income, high minority populations where schools routinely earn “D” and “F” ratings in student outcomes. Key’s answer? Charters.
Much ink has been spilled over the Little Rock situation including Key’s desire to terminate the state’s Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and the Public School Employee Fair Hearing Act in the 22 traditional schools in Little Rock. As noted by one observer, “In the absence of democratic governance and oversight, Arkansas schools are hiring unqualified teachers without a public disclosure requirement, undermining labor standards for teachers, contributing to school re-segregation, and defrauding the public.”
Tracking the details of the Little Rock fiasco, the Arkansas Times reported that the previous superintendent, Baker Kurrus, who was fired by Key before his takeover, thought charter schools “probably unconstitutional when operated as parallel, inefficient and not particularly innovative or successful ventures in Little Rock. He mentioned then that the loss of 120 students for this latest expansion potentially meant a loss of approaching another $1 million in annual state support to the Little Rock District for lost students.”
No effort was made by the state to require Key or Harris to refund the millions in tax dollars they had appropriated over a period of years to operate their religious schools. And of course they didn’t honorably offer to do so. The ABC program only marginally amended its procedures for granting funding. The guidelines now require that no religious instruction occur during the “ABC day,” a set number of hours of purely secular instruction. Whether religious instruction occurs before the ABC day commences or after it ends is not the state’s concern. Since children are often picked up by school vans or dropped off by parents before the parents’ work hours and held until the end of the work day, anywhere from two to four hours of religious instruction is usually possible.
And who would know if these schools violate the ABC day with a little prayer at lunch or a few minutes of casting out demons?
The ABC program, as it stands, does not require any kind of viability test where a school would have to prove that its religious instruction could stand on its own two feet without the use of tax dollars. In fact, if tax dollars didn’t support the rent, utilities, insurance, and salaries for general operations, these schools would cease to exist. Repeated questioning of DHS / ABC money managers has yielded zero interest in developing or implementing such a test.
Neither Harris nor Key were censured for their illegal use of public funds for their religious schools. And while Harris quietly served out his remaining term in office before retreating to private life, Key has been awarded one of the highest paid positions in state government. If Key didn’t know he was breaking the law in accepting ABC grants, he’s incredibly stupid. Surely somewhere in his years of college he must have brushed up against the idea of separation of church and state and the hard line between tax dollars and religion. If he did know, he deliberately violated the U. S. Constitution, aided and abetted by the state’s willfully ignorant wink and nod.
Now Key reigns supreme over the state’s educational systems, welcomed with open arms by a governor whose own dedication to religion is no secret. After all, Asa Hutchinson is a proud graduate of none other than Bob Jones University, a private, non-denominational evangelical university in Greenville, South Carolina, known for its conservative cultural and religious stance. Refusing to admit African-American students until 1975, the school lost federal funding and ended up in court for not allowing interracial dating or marriage within its student body. BJU hit the news again in 2014 after a report revealed that administrators had discouraged students from reporting sexual abuse. [See the New York Times report.]
Apparently Johnny Key’s religious beliefs and willingness to breach the Constitution’s bright line between church and state are the primary criterion by which he has been judged the perfect man to be in charge of Arkansas education. It’s past time to assume ignorance as the underlying problem in Key’s malfeasance. The fact is that Hutchinson, Key, and every other complicit authority over our state’s educational systems knowingly evade the Constitutional separation of church and state in order to pursue their “higher calling” to religion.
See also this recent Forbes article on the failure of charter schools.
James Phillip Womack, age 31, was sentenced to nine years in prison in mid-April 2019 after pleading guilty to drug and firearm related charges. The drug charges included possession of a controlled substance, possession of a counterfeit substance with intent to deliver, and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia. The firearms charge had to do with his previous felony conviction which barred him from possessing a firearm.
This isn’t a new problem for James. In 2010 at the age of 21, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance for which he received a ten year sentence. He mitigated that sentence by serving 105 days in a boot camp program where Army sergeant wannabes yelled, threatened, and physically and mentally harassed its inductees in the idea that this would scare them out of repeating the offense.
Clearly, it worked like a charm for James.
He was subsequently arrested for parole violations in 2011 and 2012, probably because he tested positive in mandated drug tests.
So by now James has racked up an extensive record of convictions which will never go away, which label him as a criminal: “lawbreaker, offender, villain, delinquent, malefactor, culprit, wrongdoer, transgressor, sinner.” Not a victim of one of the world’s most insidious illnesses, but rather a person purposefully doing wrong things.
This is typical for persons addicted to a substance of any kind. Incidentally, the substance involved in James’ misadventures is not named in arrest reports because the State of Arkansas records no longer name the substance involved in the arrest. That’s probably because back in the early 2000s, advocacy groups started releasing regular reports of arrests per substance, revealing that despite all the rhetoric about meth, the majority (up to 70%) of “drug arrests” were for marijuana.
We don’t know if all this outrage over James is about marijuana. But his outlook isn’t good. He’s the son of Arkansas’ 3rd District Congressman Steve Womack, an ex-military strutting cock with a crewcut and firm ideas about authority. Womack went from thirty years in the Army National Guard to working as a consultant for Merrill Lynch, which pretty much reveals where his values lie.
For a clue to Steve Womack’s personality, consider that as Congressman, he voted against allowing veterans access to medical marijuana per their Veterans Health Administration doctor’s recommendation, even if legal in their state.
As a father, when asked about his son’s most recent conviction, Womack stated that “Phillip is just a young man that has an addiction. His family has been coping with it for years like thousands of other families. They (his family) love him and they have a lot of hope for his future and that he is going to turn his life around.”
Where did ‘love’ factor into this? As Congressman, Steve Womack has unlimited access to the latest studies and research findings showing that addiction is an illness, that treatment is the route to averting such tragedy. Punishment through incarceration is not an effective response to addiction. Even a fifteen-minute review of available literature on treatment versus incarceration makes it impossible to ignore the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system in treating addiction.
That’s assuming this growing criminal record for James is about a serious drug like meth or opiates. If it’s all about marijuana, then he should never have been arrested in the first place. Marijuana is not addictive.
Steve Womack is clearly not interested in learning anything. Anyone who pushes their 21-year-old child into a prison boot camp has only one thing in mind—punishment. Because spare the rod, spoil the child has been the guiding rule for this kind of parent. And Arkansas overflows with similar parenting.
Consider the governor, Asa Hutchinson. Ex-head of DEA, ex-Congressman and prosecutor of Clinton’s impeachment hearings. Disciplinarian, hard-core evangelical Christian. They’re thick on the ground in this state. Maybe that’s why Arkansas’ incarceration rate ranks sixth in the nation.
Hutchinson’s son, like Womack’s, has a drug and alcohol problem. William Asa Hutchinson III, an attorney, was arrested on his fourth DWI in 2018, having previously been charged in 1996 when age twenty and again in 2001. He crashed his truck in 2016 for yet another DWI. In May of 2016, after receiving the DWI arrest, Hutchinson was arrested in Alabama on charges that alleged he tried to sneak a psychoactive drug into a music festival.
Oh, the outrage.
Congressman Womack, like Hutchinson as congressman and as head of the U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency, has had every opportunity to initiate legislation that would direct funding to community treatment centers where anyone can walk in and get the help they need. He has the power to work toward legalization of all drugs so that arrests for drug use don’t put young people on the devastating path to the criminal justice system. Labeling drug users as criminals only amplifies their inner demons, their sense of low self-worth that finds relief only in yet another dose.
Without doubt, these “loving” fathers have ruled their sons with an iron hand, ready to punish for any failing. So the congressman’s lament rings hollow. It’s not that he hopes his son is going to “turn his life around.” It’s that he hopes the authority of prison will succeed where his own personal authority has failed. He can’t see that this forceful approach only drives his son deeper into his need for drugs.
One would think that sooner or later these old patriarchal ideas would come into focus for such men. But no, even though it’s not working, they keep doing it. It’s their children who pay the price, they and the rest of us on the hook for upwards to $50,000 per year for each inmate in our state prisons, a cost that doesn’t include arrests, court time, and parole/probation expenses. It’s a sick system, and the sooner we shift to recognition of addiction as an illness instead of crime, the better off everyone will be.
Except, perhaps, the holy authority dinosaurs who would rather sacrifice their children than change.
 “Womack sentenced to nine years in prison,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Apr 18, 2019. B1
Ronnie Hawkins, 1959. From his official website, http://www.ronniehawkins.com Toronto, Ontario Ron Scribner Agency, courtesy of Toronto Hawk Records
“I remember running the red light there,” Hawkins said, referring to Leverett at the top of Garland hill. “I had the daughter of one of the biggest lawyers in Arkansas with me, underage of course. We ran that red light. She did.”
Robert Cochran, interviewing Ronnie Hawkins: “I think I’ve heard that story. That’s where you switch places with her, so you’d take the hit.”
“Yes, I’d take the hit,” Hawkins said. “Pearl Watts was the sheriff. He smoked those old rolled Bull Durham tobaccos. He always had one a fraction of an inch long in the corner of his mouth, [smoke] going right up into his eye while he was interrogating you. Judge Packet said I was a menace to the highway, and I’d better straighten up… They were sitting right behind Leverett school. When we were going over that hill, we were in a hurry to get out to the university farm. That’s where everybody parked.”
Hawkins was indeed in the company of an underage girl, none other than Marcia Perkins, daughter of Rex Perkins. Even though technically too young to hold a driver’s license, she drove a brand new 1956 red-and -white Chevy Bel-Air, courtesy of Rex’s close professional relationships with Fayetteville car dealers.
From Rex Perkins – A Biography:
“By the time Marcia was fourteen in 1955, she had developed a secretive months-long relationship with twenty-one-year-old Ronnie Hawkins, a fledgling star in the music world. Older sister Carole had started college, but Marcia had her own ideas about her future. One night, Marcia attended a slumber party and ended up on the phone with Hawkins. Whether the slumber party had been a strategic maneuver to give her a means to meet him is unknown. But the upshot was that she slipped out of the slumber party to join Hawkins at the golf course where he and other members of his popular group “Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks” were hanging out and jamming in what turned out to be an all-nighter.
“One version of this story claims that Roy Orbison was in town for this jam session, which wasn’t completely unusual. The early form of rock and roll (later named ‘rockabilly’) blossomed around Huntsville-native Hawkins and his friend Levon Helm, along with other members of this group. Other music notables who came to Fayetteville to jam with Hawkins and/or to play at a favorite nightspot, the Rockwood Club, included Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Conway Twitty.
“An acquaintance of Hawkins remembered those early years. ‘Ronnie was a natural athlete and a ‘Greek god’ of a life guard at the Wilson Park swimming pool. He understandably received lots of attention from a wide range of women.’
“It was assumed that Marcia and Hawkins were sleeping together, although whether they were intimate during the night in question is not known. One of her slumber party friends confessed the story of Marcia slipping out to her mother, Jane McDonald. Jane told Georgia, Georgia told Rex, and the proverbial mess hit the fan. Marcia was Rex’s baby, Daddy’s little girl, and like most fathers in similar circumstances, Rex wasn’t prepared for another man in Marcia’s young life.
“As the story goes, even though fourteen was the legal age of consent at that time in Arkansas, a fired-up Rex gave the young man a choice: leave town or suffer my wrath. The result was that Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks made a hasty departure from the region. The official version of Hawkins’ life story states he began touring Canada (date unspecified) and later made it his home (1958), and that he ventured there on advice from Conway Twitty.
“Contacted regarding this biography, Hawkins confirmed that Rex made certain threats. ‘Rex was the biggest lawyer ever in Fayetteville at that time,’ Hawkins stated. ‘I would have married her but I was afraid somebody was gonna kill me.’”
If Marcia’s girlfriend hadn’t spilled the beans, Rex would have found out anyway. Pearl Watts knew Marcia’s car and would have made sure Rex knew that his daughter had been found in the company of that rock-and-roller Hawkins, flying through that stoplight.
 “Long on Nerve: An Interview with Ronnie Hawkins,” Robert Cochran and Ronnie Hawkins. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly Vol 65, No. 2 (Summer 2006) pp. 99-115.
 Scott Lunsford interview, by email June 26, 2014. Author’s notes.
 From there, the story of Hawkins’ group is well known to music buffs. After 1964, fellow-Arkansan Helm and other band members regrouped to form ‘The Band,” toured with Bob Dylan in 1965-66, and went on to fame and fortune. Hawkins continued his musical career to become a mentor to other musicians as well as an award-winning performer.
 Scott Lunsford interview, his email relating phone conversation with Ronnie Hawkins August 15, 2014. Author’s notes.
As I sat in the massive sports arena, outfitted in its overhead screens meant for close-ups to penalty shots, I thought of the other times I’ve joined such crowds for ceremonies deemed important in our society. People of all kinds rubbed shoulders in the steep rows of seats, all of us suffering the interminable wait for things to happen. A brass quintet played, their image projected onscreen so that we could see the puffing of the tuba player’s cheeks, the hand stuffed in the bell of the French horn. August cadences of heraldic composition by Bach and other Baroque composers echoed off the high dome of steel and glass. Attendants rushed from place to place.
Finally the processional began, resonate strains of that long familiar “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1 in D by Sir Edward Elgar (1901). Led by deans and faculty and pages carrying medieval banners announcing the insignia and names of colleges that would be conferring degrees, leadership of the university headed the long lines of graduating students, their robes descended from Middle Age dress just as many buildings on campus continue an ancient architectural tradition.
The caps or tams and variously colored hoods or stoles designated the degree and college—doctoral robes with three velvet sleeve bars, master’s robes with the pointed sleeve extension, or bachelor’s degree regalia with their open sleeves.
Once seated, the 1,700 graduates and attending university trustees, chancellor, and deans joined the audience in standing for the performance of the national anthem and a musical invocation by the university’s Schola Cantorum, yet another name and tradition of the Middle Ages originally organized to perform plainchant in the early church. The music brought a catch to my throat. How many times had I experienced the rush of emotion at this music, each occasion a milestone in my life or the life of someone dear?
Then the speeches, a reminder that from education comes what we value most as a society—the rule of law, the exploration of science, the marvelous inventions of mathematics and engineering, the preservation and creation of language through literature, history, philosophy, the magic of the arts.
Then the graduates, no longer embroiled in intense study and eager to harvest the product of their long labor and expense—a diploma. One by one their eager faces appeared on the big overhead screen, each called by name, each striding toward the dean of their college to accept the red leather folder with its heavy parchment page bearing their name and the title of their accomplishment.
My mother, at 95 hardly able to stay current with the rapid changes of our times, expressed muted shock at all the “foreign” names. “They live here, too,” I whispered.
Later, as I drove her home, I thanked her for coming to this ceremony honoring her granddaughter. “So many people,” she mused. “Nothing like when I went there.”
“No,” I said laughing. “A lot has changed in seventy-five years.”
Old Main, University of Arkansas Fayetteville
Later as I reflected on the emotion still swelling in my chest, the realization came again as it has in the past. Especially in times changing as rapidly as ours, we need our traditions, our ceremonies, to remind us of why we are what we are. Education forms the heart of our civilization. No wonder we house our institutions of learning in buildings modeled on the earliest designs of Western culture. No wonder the prestige of educational leadership appears in the same garment style as medieval Oxford dons wore a thousand years ago.
Graduation isn’t simply the conferring of degrees. It’s a rite of passage into a special tier of human endeavor celebrated by those who have committed to heart and memory the facts, rules, and practices of a particular profession. They have taken the traditions of our ancestors to their own safekeeping in order to serve us all, to preserve and enhance, to invent and expand the talents and knowledge upon which our lives depend.
The fact that a winter commencement at the modest yet ambitious flagship university of a lesser state such as Arkansas has advanced the ambitions of 1,700 individuals gives me good cheer in a time when so much about our world seems dark. From these and thousands of kindred graduates across our land will come the solutions. This is the future. I’m thrilled to see it.